8-year-old Mahia spent her whole life in Korea, but is forced to leave due to lack of documents

Mahia doesn’t look Korean; she looks South Asian, but her home country is Korea. She was born in an obstetric hospital Seoul in 2005 to Phillip, 34, and Aliye, 29, both migrant workers from Bangladesh. The South Korean government does not grant citizenship to the children of foreign nationals residing in South Korea, even if they are born here, so Mahia never got valid Korean citizenship. Since her birth was never registered in Bangladesh, Mahia is not a citizen of any country.

Mahia is a second grader at the Nokchon branch of Maseok Elementary School, with the help of Namyangju Service Center for Migrant Workers. Mahia’s friends in the school of just over 20 students consider her a Korean girl and were sad to have to say goodbye to her. “I’ll email often,” Mahia said, smiling. She had never considered herself Bangladeshi before. “I don’t know Bangladesh. I don’t want to leave my Korean friends. I like Korea as it is. I want to continue my studies here.”

A Korean volunteer at the migrant workers center said, “Mahia is suffering an identity crisis because society labels her as a foreigner.”

There are a number of obstacles ahead of Mahia. In order for her to receive post-elementary education for undocumented migrants, she has to rely on the good will of the school’s principal. The South Korean government frequently deports undocumented foreign workers in crackdowns.

Worried about her dark future and concerns over national identity and education, Mahia’s parents could not but decide to send her to Bangladesh.

Bangladesh South Korea immigration citizenship photojournalism airport stateless migrant worker undocumented Namyangju Gyeonggi multiculturalism

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